Football, the game played with physical contact and human emotion, has surrendered its power to the calculations of computers.
If the message is that there are things beyond your control, we got it. If we want a reminder of the importance of taking care of business when business appears, that, too, comes through loud and clear.
The Bowl Championship Series is right back where it started. When it was the Bowl Alliance, the Rose Bowl stood outside the mix. Today, the Rose Bowl stands where it always stood, as a match up of the Big Ten and Pac-10 winner. The nation's No. 1 team will play there. Southern Cal won the hearts of the writers and the coaches in a defining victory Saturday. The BCS has no such intangible gauge or pulse.
This season, the BCS has created a hall of mirrors, where the nation's top-ranked team doesn't get to play in their championship game, and the nation's No. 5 team isn't allowed in one of its other three games.
A lot more things than Oklahoma were exposed Saturday night. The BCS bowls themselves are rendered to produce a potential split national champion with No. 1 USC and No. 4 Michigan playing in a high-profile Rose Bowl match-up. As to the game in New Orleans, No.2 LSU is deservedly happy, and No.3 Oklahoma is breathing a sigh of relief.
The strongest message for those left behind by the system is that it is the system that is being questioned, and in some cases, ridiculed.
Almost every other NCAA sport, headed of course by the high-profile NCAA basketball committee, uses computers to help humans make rational decisions. The BCS has a handful of humans who enter data to let machines make decisions. Computers do not think, people do.
In the NCAA basketball tournament, great conferences aren't limited in the number of teams that have the to play for the national championship. The teams in pursuit of the Final Four will often include as many as eight or nine teams from elite conferences. The BCS allows only two from one conference. Texas was seventh in the BCS in 2001 and sixth this year. The 'Horns have been BCS eligible four of the last five years. But the system, in the vernacular of the computer, denied them access.
This time, the Fiesta Bowl clearly wanted Texas. The Rose had shown great interest in Texas playing Michigan, the Orange Bowl talked about a potential Texas-Miami match-up. But when Kansas State beat Oklahoma and won the Big 12 Conference Championship, Texas became the odd man out.
Obviously from the outcry, this isn't the first time this thing has ended in a mess. In 1999, the Longhorns entered the Big 12 Championship Game in the BCS pool, but lost to Nebraska. In 2000, most folks thought Miami should have played Oklahoma in place of Florida State, but the BCS decided otherwise. That despite the Hurricanes victory over Florida State during the regular season that year. In 2001, after Texas lost heartbreaker in the Big 12 Championship game, Nebraska played for the National Championship, even though they didn't even win the Big 12 North Division crown.
Mack Brown understands it, with more first-hand knowledge of the feelings than perhaps anybody else. In 1996, his North Carolina team was set for the Bowl Alliance (the predecessor to the BCS from 1995-97), only to have Texas upset Nebraska in the Big 12 Championship game. Nebraska got the at-large bid Brown and the Tar Heels were hoping for. In 2001, Texas fell to Colorado, 39-37, in the Big 12 Championship game, Nebraska got the at large bid to the National Championship and Colorado the automatic from the BCS.
So four times, on this weekend, Brown has been jilted. But while he will say publicly that the system obviously needs work, it's in an effort to help college football as a whole and not just the Longhorns. To his team, he has given a clear message. Remember this: don't ever again let somebody else's game at the end of the year determine your fate. Translation: be playing in that championship game yourself.
With the current BCS structure that is easier said than done, even if you won all, or all but one, of your games. Consider that Texas' hope of a trip to the BCS hinged on an Oklahoma victory, just as Boise State's late-night win on Saturday evening in the WAC title game played a role in LSU slipping ahead of USC in the final standings. With the computers involved, nearly every game, no matter how much it genuinely matters by comparison, alters the overall standings.
Now, the question becomes what to do about where we go from here to close this 2003 season right, and that is not left to a computer. This time, it is a human decision.
The Longhorns earned the right to play in a high-profile bowl game, and they will face a formidable foe in 15th-ranked Washington State. A team that, as USC appeared headed to the national title game, at one point looked like a certain Rose Bowl selection with a Top 10 BCS ranking. Losing to Washington in its final game of the season derailed those hopes.
The Pacific Life Holiday Bowl has established a reputation as one of the most exciting of all of the bowl games. The Texas-Washington game two years ago drew more viewers than some of the BCS games in recent years. Texas and Washington State will be treated to a wonderful trip to San Diego.
It is important that Longhorn fans show the good people of the Holiday Bowl that they were not wrong when they chose Texas, even knowing there would be disappointment over the turn of events of the weekend. Its two trips to San Diego have shown Texas fans what a wonderful experience the City by the Sea can be, and Longhorn fans who live on the West Coast (and there are more than 15,000 in Southern California alone) can come and see this team one more time.
The seniors, particularly, deserve that. It is important for those who care about them to show it was the BCS which rejected them, not the Texas fans.
Since its Oklahoma game, this team has shown immense pride. It has played as well as it could, and has completely turned around its image across the nation. It went from nowhere at mid-season to being recognized as one of the best teams in the country by year's end.
Now, one more time, this team will gather and play for themselves, their school and their supporters from coast-to-coast. Now is when the emotion and the physical nature of football enter the picture. Now, it is about how you, as a person, will stand and be remembered.
The record books will show a number reflecting a season's wins and losses. The mind will remember how you handled adversity, and those who reached down and played for pride.
If the system has disrespected you, blame it on a computer.
It is significant that the BCS poll ends with its placement of teams as it did over the weekend. It is not restructured after the bowl games. The system is finished.
Now, it is up to us humans to support each other. Darrell Royal used to use a phrase "When I set my bucket down," to indicate the end of a passage of life.
It is that which a computer can't understand. It's only data is that which we choose to put into it.
The chambers of the mind contain human memories. Most important, a computer doesn't feel.
And feeling good about yourself, and what you accomplished, will be the final measurement of life.
No one may remember how well you played the game.
But you will.